THE PLEAS from the terraces were granted as Martin O’Neill finally made the bold move to partner Steven Fletcher with Danny Graham.
But the scenario was frustratingly familiar; the same yarn as the previous two games where Sunderland’s profligacy cost them what could and should have been a point.
Undoubtedly, the Black Cats looked far more of a threatening outfit at The Hawthorns with an orthodox 4-4-2 and it was a decision which had to be made after Fletcher’s isolation over the previous two games.
Two frontmen sniffing around the penalty area gave Sunderland a base camp from which to attack the Baggies from and, boasting two widemen looking to attack the full-backs, ensured the Wearsiders were a persistent threat.
The system also seemed to inject new life into Stephane Sessegnon, who gave Liam Ridgewell a torrid time during the second half and persistently moved Sunderland up the pitch by carrying the ball forward.
Neither were Sunderland over-run with one less man in midfield – the tireless Alfred N’Diaye working superbly to cover the ground and ensuring the Baggies weren’t able to play the two-touch football which they showcased to such good effect at the Stadium of Light in November.
But although there was a consistency to Sunderland’s attacking potency, O’Neill’s side have to start profiting from their opportunities.
Against both Reading and Arsenal, Sunderland fluffed their lines in front of goal and it was the same story yesterday.
During the opening 25 minutes, Sunderland controlled the encounter, but didn’t make the most of their domination.
What happened? The Baggies survived three times in 30 seconds and they took it as a warning, finally coming to life and getting their noses in front.
It was a similar story in the second half, as Sunderland’s pressure before Romelu Lukaku’s second goal came to nought.
Even when Sessegnon got the visitors back into the game, they couldn’t muster that precious equaliser – typified in the third minute of stoppage time when James McClean somehow managed to blaze over from six yards out.
Sunderland merited a point, although if West Brom had shown more ruthlessness themselves, they could have been out of sight.
The Black Cats defence were unable to contain Lukaku, as the Belgian striker showcased the power and pace which have made him such a hit since arriving on loan from Chelsea.
Sunderland’s defenders resorted to any measures – legal or not – to halt the 19-year-old, but never looked comfortable in dealing with him, although they are far from the only side this season to say that.
In fairness, Sunderland were having to chase the game in the second half and as the encounter became so open, it was hardly conducive towards defensive prudence.
But the pressure produced from Lukaku eventually took its toll when Titus Bramble managed a blundering back-pass for a slightly fortuitous second.
The Black Cats can still boast a healthy five-point margin with the relegation zone, but the last three games have been major opportunities missed to put a stranglehold on their survival quest.
Belief must be maintained that the chances will turn.
But should Sunderland be equally wasteful against a travel sick Fulham side next weekend, then those pre-Christmas nerves will begin to return.
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